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Secret Service agents share chilling memories of 9/11

Secret Service agents share chilling memories of 9/11
Secret Service agents share chilling memories of 9/11 02:54

Nearly 20 years ago, a Secret Service agent, the president's chief of staff and a military aide huddled on board Air Force One to decide who was going to tell former President George W. Bush that Secret Service supervisors had determined it was too dangerous to return to Washington, D.C. 

Moments earlier, Eddie Marinzel, the lead Secret Service agent on the president's detail, stood to the right of Mr. Bush in a now-iconic moment from 9/11. Chief of staff Andy Card had just informed Mr. Bush about the terrorist attacks as he was reading to elementary school students in a Florida classroom. 

"When I saw the look on the president's face I knew that there was something that was bad," Marinzel said. 

September 11th Terrorist Attacks
A stunned President George W. Bush looks past his chief of staff, Andrew Card, after learning about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. DOUG MILLS / AP

Marinzel's mission became getting the president out of the classroom and onto Air Force One as quickly as possible. "We do a very steep takeoff," he explained. "Our idea was to, you know, hide in the sky until we can figure out what was going on." 

Fighter jets escorted Air Force One, protecting the president from any possible attack. The Twin Towers and the Pentagon were feared to be the beginning of a larger al-Qaeda battle plan. 

Marinzel said he was told, "Don't bring him back. It's too unsettled. We don't know what else is out there." 

Steven Stasiuk, a Secret Service agent who was off duty, rushed to the White House when he learned of the attacks. He was in the process of buying a car when he saw the planes hit the towers on the salesman's television. "Everybody just showed up. No one had to be told to come in," he said. 

Secret Service agent Nick Trotta was with first lady Laura Bush on Capitol Hill before evacuating her to Secret Service headquarters. "We perform a role. And that role is really to evacuate and to provide that safety," he said. 

Trotta said the first lady expressed concern about her daughters Barbara and Jenna, who were at college but had been evacuated by Secret Service agents to nearby hotels. The first lady was eager to leave headquarters and wanted to speak with her husband, Trotta said. "I told her that this was the best place. It was the most secure location," he said. 

At the White House, Secret Service agent Tony Zotto was ordered by his supervisor to rush Vice President Dick Cheney down into the White House bunker. 

"He was watching TV," Zotto said. "I knew that he had heart issues before. So I wanted to make sure that the stress of pulling him out of the office and dragging him down the stairs didn't have a negative effect on his heart." 

Zotto said he asked Cheney if he was feeling OK. "'I'm fine. I'm OK,''" he said Cheney told him. 

Down in the bunker, a military aide told Cheney another hijacked plane was incoming. 

"He said, 'Mr. Vice President, we have a plane coming down through Pennsylvania, down the Potomac direction. It's a hijacked plane. We need your authorization to take it down.' And he said, 'Is it a confirmed hijack?' And the officer said, 'Yes, sir, it is.' He just said, 'OK, take it down,'" Zotto said. 

Flight 93 was not shot down. It crashed after the passengers and crew fought back against the hijackers. 

"I will never forget as long as I live what happened," said Marinzel, who was with Mr. Bush that day. "I'm sure the rest of my colleagues feel the same." 

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